Branding Story – ‘The Vanilla Ice Project’

I always love a good branding story, and hope you enjoy this one with an interesting twist. If ‘Vanilla Ice’ doesn’t sound familiar to you — he was a rapper in the 1990’s, but that is not what this story is about.  It is about Rob Van Winkle discovering a passion for real estate and renovation, having an odd appeal, along with knowledge to create a credible brand.

He first bought a home on Miami Beach‘s exclusive Star Island. He subsequently bought homes in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles, New York’s Greenwich Village and Snowbird, Utah, a skiing and snowboarding destination.  “I went on tour for three years and never saw any of those houses,” Van Winkle said.  Fearing they may have been a waste of money, he decided to sell them — and a new career was born.

“I literally made millions of dollars on them,” Van Winkle said. “I was like, ‘You got to be kidding me. It can’t be that easy. Let’s go buy some more.'”After Van Winkle’s early 1990s stardom faded, he became more heavily involved in real estate. Although the housing market is different from how it was 15 years ago, Van Winkle says he has been able to make money over the years by educating himself, studying markets and taking advantage of short sales and foreclosures.

The longtime Miami resident estimates he has bought and sold more than a hundred homes, most of them in Florida.”The Vanilla Ice Project” came together after a producer remembered Van Winkle talking about his real-estate experience during an interview for another show.

Matt Levine of Departure Films said he had done a special on Vanilla Ice for the Biography Channel several years ago. So when the production company was looking to duplicate the success of “Flip This House,” a hit on the A&E Network, Levine remembered Van Winkle’s interest in real estate. When Levine called, Van Winkle was in the process of buying a large, completely gutted foreclosure in Palm Beach.”

I flew down with a camera,” Levine said, “and we shot a little demo of him showing off the place and talking about his experience in real estate and what he wanted to do with this house. It was really very impressive, and it became this little teaser reel. And DIY was immediately interested in it.”That house became the project for the first season, which aired in fall 2010. The show became an instant hit for the DIY Network, and the home sold a short time later.

Ice’s odd appeal

Levine acknowledged that the oddness of the show’s premise — Vanilla Ice doing home improvement — was probably the original draw for most viewers. But they kept watching because of Van Winkle’s charisma and expertise, he said.

“This is all my own money,” Van Winkle said. “It’s basically just them following me around, doing what I do.”

“I think once it became clear that he really knew his stuff, people started to look at him in a different way,” Levine said. “Instead of seeing him as a one-hit wonder or a blast from the past, people started to appreciate him much more than they expected.”

“You don’t have to put in the elevator; you don’t have to put in the lazy river or the huge 3-D cinema,” Van Winkle said. “But you might like the flooring we used in the garage. It’s just snap-in tiles. It’s really simple. You can order them anywhere and make your garage a really cool man cave. There are a lot of cool little things that you’re going to be inspired by and have ideas to do to your own home.”

Van Winkle acknowledges that having the film crew there has given him a chance to boost the scale of his renovations. In the past, the work he did to homes was generally limited to painting, minor repairs and landscaping.”Since the cameras are on it, these are the best houses I’ve done,” Van Winkle said.And the new season promises to be even bigger and better than the first….Start small, and think BIG.

Full story by Gayle Jo Carter for USA here.

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